Mets Rumors & News
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Willie Randolph may no longer be managing the Mets by this time next month, but a change in the manager’s office won’t change the fact that the Mets are a day late and a big bat short.

In 2006, by far the team’s most productive season during Willie’s tenure, Paul Lo Duca hit second for most of the season and led the team with a .318 average. He and Jose Reyes produced 332 runs that season en route to the NL East division title. To be honest, when I looked at the numbers I was surprised to find that despite the high batting average, Lo Duca produced just 129 runs (80 runs scored, 49 RBI) in ’06. Reyes largely carried the top of the order that season, putting up borderline MVP numbers, hitting .300 with 122 runs and 81 RBI. So considering that fact, is Reyes’ decline the sole culprit for the Mets’ struggles since June ’07? Well, not exactly.

Looking around the majors in 2008, some of the most productive offenses in baseball feature dynamic hitters in the 2 hole.

The Red Sox’ Dustin Pedroia is hitting .301, and only Texas’ Josh Hamilton has compiled more hits in the American League this season. Pedroia is on pace to score 91 runs with 81 RBI. Couple those numbers with those of leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury (.291 AVG, .396 OBP, on pace for 138 runs scored and 60 RBI), and you have the AL’s most lethal 1-2 punch at the top of the order. Together the duo is on pace for 370 runs produced.

Meanwhile, in the National League the Cubs have mashed and bashed their way to the top of the Central division. Unconventional leadoff man Alfonso Soriano is hitting just .278 with a .315 OBP, but is on pace to score 101 runs and record 119 RBI. In the 2 hole, Ryan Theriot is – surprise, surprise – on fire, batting .324 with a .398 OBP. He’s on pace to score 105 runs with 47 RBI. The pair are on pace for 372 runs produced.

By no means am I piling the Mets’ struggles at the feet of Luis Castillo, but the hobbled second baseman is hitting just .262 and is on pace for 84 runs and 49 RBI. The average is significantly lower than you’d like, but the run production is pretty much on par with what Lo Duca put up in 2006. You could live with those numbers if your leadoff hitter is an MVP candidate, however, Reyes is on pace for 93 runs scored and 71 RBI in 2008. Those numbers aren’t terrible, they’re just not Reyes-like, and they place added import on the production the team is getting from the 2 hole.

I believe that the No. 2 hitter in a batting order should be a versatile hitter who puts the ball in play, uses the opposite field, isn’t afraid of an 0-2 count, and rarely strikes out. In fact, I wish that description fit every hitter in the lineup, but those qualities loom particularly large in the 2 hole with an aggressive baserunner like Reyes in the leadoff spot. However, having said that, I am a firm proponent of the philosophy that you want your best hitters stacked 1-2-3 to maximize the number of at-bats they’ll see through the course of a game and the course of the season. If Luis were hitting at a .318 clip as Lo Duca did in ’06, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Instead, I’m forced to seriously question the value of a hitter like Castillo at the top of this Mets lineup.

Of course, this isn’t breaking news. The Met fan has been down on Castillo for the entire season, so I presume I’m preaching to the choir. Similarly, I doubt I’ll attract many naysayers when I extol the virtues of hitting Ryan Church second in the order. Church after all is on pace for 127 runs scored and 119 RBI. To put those numbers in perspective, consider that the 29-year-old Church has 160 runs and 185 RBI for his entire career. Consider this as well: a 1-2 combination of Reyes and Church at the top of the order would put that duo on pace for 410 runs produced this season. Quite simply, it’s impossible to stink as badly as the Mets do with that sort of production at the top of the order. Moreover, a Met fan has to feel confident looking at a lineup 1-through-4 that features Jose Reyes, Ryan Church, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran.

Which brings us to the Mets’ problem in a nutshell. This lineup has too many holes and not enough lumber to plug them. While fans have liked what they’ve seen from Church batting second (and how could you not?), his absence from the middle of the lineup leaves the team’s cleanup hitter completely unprotected. Things look a tad better when Moises Alou is hitting fifth, however Alou is once again on the DL and by the end of this most recent stint he will most likely have seen fewer at-bats this season than Raul Casanova. There is no “quick fix” for this sort of imbalance in the batting order. Just look at the plight of the New York Yankees last week. No amount of lineup card shuffling or hat tossing and dirt kicking could cover the fact that the Yankee order looked barren without the presence of Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada. With A-Rod already back and Posada on the horizon, that pair might be the two best mid-season acquisitions that a team could ask for. The Mets, meanwhile, will need to search for an acquisition of another kind.

Is Brandon Inge the answer? I love his versatility, but you can’t love that .233 average. His best season came in 2006 when he belted 27 homers and drove in 83 runs while hitting just .253. Let’s face it, people, we’re talking about Carlos Delgado with a better glove. I’m not saying I wouldn’t take Carlos Delgado with a better glove, I just don’t think I’d give up much to get him.

Marcus Thames? Another righty with pop who can play the outfield. Also another career .240 hitter.

Adam Dunn? This guy takes a lot of heat for his propensity for the strike out, but unlike the two guys I just mentioned, at least you can count on 40 homers and 100 RBI from this .240 hitter. His left-handed bat would leave the team woefully vulnerable to left-handed pitching. Nonetheless, he’s an upgrade over anything on the Mets’ bench.

There simply aren’t a whole lot of impact bats floating around on the trade market. Clearly, I don’t have the cure-all for what ails the Mets, but neither do I see how firing Willie Randolph solves the problem.

Unless Bobby V can hit in the five hole.

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